Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rocktober: 'The Doors' (1991)

Its title may be The Doors, but Oliver Stone's film ostensibly about the influential 1960s rock group might more accurately be called Jim Morrison: Portrait of a Douchebag. The other three members of The Doors (Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore) barely register in Stone's drug-soaked opus, which often resembles the muddled headspace of its main character. The movie could have used a break from Morrison's egotistical ramblings, but instead of chronicling the tumultuous career of The Doors, Stone chronicles Morrison's every volatile outburst and psychedelic freakout, minimizing the music in favor of glorifying Morrison's egocentric behavior.

No one depicted in the movie was particularly happy with how it turned out, and I'm willing to believe that Morrison wasn't as insufferable in real life as Stone and actor Val Kilmer make him in this movie. But spending a little over two hours with the guy is a real chore, from his supposedly formative experience as a child witnessing a group of Native Americans in a car accident (which leads to the recurring motif of Native American spirits appearing to him, memorably spoofed in Wayne's World 2), to his manner of courting his longtime girlfriend Pamela (Meg Ryan, seriously miscast) by following her home and climbing up onto her porch, to his numerous drug freakouts. It doesn't help that I'm less than impressed by the band's music as Serious Art, although Stone does little to win over any skeptics.

Kilmer gives a very spirited performance, to say the least, and it's hard to blame him for Morrison's excesses that were either real or written into the script or both. Kyle MacLachlan, Kevin Dillon and Frank Whaley, who play the other band members, don't really get much to do, and Ryan is never quite convincing as a free-spirited druggie. The whole movie comes off as a self-indulgent mess about a self-indulgent mess, and if anything made me less inclined than before to bother with the music of The Doors. Kilmer does do a pretty good approximation of Morrison's voice, at least.


Andrea Ostrov Letania said...

Something tells me the real Morrison would have been harder to handle than the one on the screen. The problem for me was less the douche-baggery--tons of rock stars and movie stars are douchebags with immensely vain egos--, but how the douchebaggery was sensationalized and romanticized. In the end, Morrison doesn't so much come across as an 'asshole' as a possessed artist who pushed the envelope to break on through to the other side. And he was even willing to surrender his sanity and life for ART.

Another problem was the look of the film. Though about the 60s, the aesthetics--as with Taymore's ACROSS THE UNIVERSE--is more MTV-like. It looks glossy and slick than organic, spontaneous, and textured like so many cinema-verite drenched visuals of the 60s.

As for Morrison crowding out the other band members in the movie, I think this is a problem only with Manzarek.
Morrison was the Doors, just like Lennon and McCartney(more than Ringo and George)were the Beatles and like Steve Tyler was Aerosmith. Not that others didn't matter. After all, Doors' biggest hit 'LIGHT MY FIRE' wasn't written by Morrison. But Morrison was the face, the personality, the force of the Doors. Had the drummer or guitarist died, Doors would still have been Doors. But no Morrison and no Doors, just like no Garcia, no Grateful Dead.

Josh said...

The perception is certainly there that Morrison was The Doors, but a movie that claims to tell the entire story of the band should do more than just enforce the public perception. I would have liked to learn more about the other band members and how they reacted to and dealt with Morrison, but instead they barely got any lines.

You're right that the movie was all about sensationalizing and romanticizing Morrison's ego, rather than telling the story of the band.